Chinese doctor who was silenced after warning about coronavirus dies

A Chinese man who was reprimanded by police for warning fellow doctors about the newly discovered coronavirus has died just days after being diagnosed with the mysterious disease, local media reported Thursday.

Dr. Li Wenliang, 34, was one of the first people trying to sound the alarm about the pneumonia-like illness in late December, but authorities reportedly accused him of spreading rumors and “severely disturbing the social order.” It was only three weeks later that Chinese officials acknowledged the threat and confirmed the outbreak.

Li, who was an ophthalmologist in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, was diagnosed with the virus on Jan. 30 and succumbed to the illness on Thursday night, according to state-run People’s Daily newspaper.

A World Health Organization official briefly commented on Li’s death during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We are very sad to hear of the loss of Dr. Li Wenliang,” the agency’s emergencies chief, Dr. Michael Ryans, told reporters.

“We are very sorry to hear of the loss of any front-line worker who’s attempted to care for patients,” he added. “We should celebrate his life and mourn his death with his colleagues.”

Li, who’s now being described as a whistleblower, shared a message in an online chat group on Dec. 30 warning other doctors that seven patients had been quarantined in his hospital with a respiratory disease that resembled SARS, another type of coronavirus that killed hundreds of people in China in the early 2000s.

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China coronavirus outbreak spreads across regions
A traveler wears a face mask as he sits in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A girl wearing a face mask sits among suitcases at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Travelers wearing face masks gather at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Staff in biohazard suits hold a metal stretcher by the in-patient department of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a novel coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Heightened precautions were being taken in China and elsewhere Tuesday as governments strove to control the outbreak of the coronavirus, which threatens to grow during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
Peatones con máscaras de protección en una zona comercial de Tokio, el jueves 16 de enero de 2020. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)
Health workers wear protective gear Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003, in Ward E3 of the Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Hong Kong's New Territories, where 24 patients were quarantined after seven of its health workers developed flu-like symptoms, although none have tested positive for SARS. According to a hospital spokesperson five nurses and two health care assistants working in the hospital's Ward E3 developed symptoms such as coughs, sore throats and fevers on Friday. Hong Kong's health chief, Dr.Yeoh Eng-kiong, said that preliminary test results showed patients' samples did not contain coronavirus that causes SARS and researchers are trying to identify the cause of the illness. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Workers monitor screens for fever signs on passengers detected by infrared detectors at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk outside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: Chinese travellers wear protective masks as they arrive to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
YICHANG, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Travelers wearing protective masks walk outside a railway station in Yichang in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. China has stepped up the measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in China.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as her mother pushes her on a suitcase to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
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Four days after screenshots of that message went viral on social media, Li was summoned to the Public Security Bureau, where he was told to stop making false comments online, according to a BBC News report.

Li continued treating patients after the police encounter and eventually contracted the virus himself.

The case has drawn outrage in China as critics accused the country’s ruling Community Party of prioritizing politics and censorship over protecting public health.

As of Thursday, the virus has killed more than 560 people and sickened about 28,000 others in China alone. More than 200 cases have been confirmed elsewhere, including a dozen in the U.S, but only two people have died outside mainland China — one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

The outbreak has led Chinese authorities to lock down Wuhan and more than a dozen other cities, close major tourist sites and canceled multiple events to contain the spread of the disease.

The WHO, which last week declared the outbreak a global health emergency, has urged the international community to raise $675 million to prepare and respond to the crisis in the next few months.

One of the largest donations so far has come from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Seattle-based charity announced Wednesday it would provide up to $100 million to improve detection, isolation and treatment efforts and accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs.

“Our hope is that these resources will help catalyze a rapid and effective international response,” CEO Mark Suzman said in a statement. “This response should be guided by science, not fear, and it should build on the steps that the World Health Organization has taken to date.”

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